Encouraging social interactions for our students

I finally took the plunge last year and got a smartphone. It has had a big impact on my life. I now have my calendar wherever I go and can get back to students and colleagues that email me about classwork or professional development much faster. I am definitely a more efficient professional!

Smart phones are prevalent in today's social scene.Smart phones are prevalent in today's social scene.

Smartphones are native technology for today’s students. They text message much more than they talk. To say that students are not communicating anymore is not true. They are communicating more than ever; in ways that limit their practice with critical face-to-face social skills. As teachers, one of our responsibilities is to help them to practice these skills. Schools have embraced the technology boom.

Teachers are encouraged and expected to investigate use of technology to enhance learning. My school is a one-to-one school and every student benefits from access to a laptop computer. They construct projects, communicate electronically and have access to the wealth of information on the Internet. The efficiency of electronic documents alone has allowed us to give students additional opportunities to chew on ideas.

It all comes with a potential cost for all of us. Many of us work on technology and get a lot done. Screen time also has the potential to distract us from other tasks. Recent research by the and has not painted a positive picture of multi-tasking. These studies suggest that we are fooling ourselves on our ability to multi-task. Many people believe that they can simultaneously work on and complete multiple tasks at once with the same quality as if they attempted single tasks sequentially. Both studies referenced above suggest that the reduction in quality that invariably accompanies multi-tasking is not worth the parallel engagement.

So why think about this on this blog? Board games have the potential to give us what we might be in danger of losing in a technology and multi-task pressured world. They offer both the social engagement and focus that we can’t afford for students (and adults) to not practice.

Board games are inherently social. They ask for you to interact directly and verbally with people. They allow us to practice negotiate and competitive discourse. A trend in modern board games, one of my personal favorites, is the cooperative game. The players of the game combine their resources to play against the game itself. If there is a social skill that we want to practice, board games place us in an environment where we have to practice!

Spielbound is a great environment for this. I have yet to walk into Spielbound and not be invited, by complete strangers, to participate in a game. Board games are always better with more people. There is more interaction. There are more brains chewing on ideas. I know of many people who have found new friends over a board game at Spielbound. I have seen this countless times at the Game Club at my school. It is not a stretch to consider it a possibility in a classroom!

If we are worried about screen time and split attention, the solution is unequivocally to offer students an environment in which they must focus. Focusing on one task at a time does not imply simplistic or superficial engagement. Board games offer depth and breadth in thinking. A good teacher of games knows that you start by teaching the basics of the game and then allow the player to explore a detailed web of interrelated pros and cons of seeking victory. Plus, games usually have a “skin” that is related to a topic that people enjoy: historical situations, fantasy, science fiction, literature. There is a theme for a game for everyone and these themes allow us to learn in a context that is married closely with our personal joys.

Board games offer the potential of teaching social engagement and focus that we are in danger of losing in a technology saturated world. I certainly don’t intend to demonize technology. I use it every day. To be successful thinkers we have to challenge ourselves in a wide variety of ways. Board games can offer the counter-point to technological isolation and multi-tasking that can help to ensure that we develop the kinds of critical thinking and social skills that we know make for successful adults.

Contact me at teachers [at] spielbound.org if you have any questions about how board games might be able to enhance your school curriculum or extracurriculars.